We’re still working our way through the multitude of Japanese weizens, so today we’ve got the Doppo Weizen and the seasonal Minamishunshu Alps Weizen. While not really the same kind of beer since we liked these smoked beers we’ll also try the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Weizen.
Doppo Weizen (独歩・ヴァイツェン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Light gold, cloudy, lots of fluffy foam
Aroma – Lots of banana and yeast, cloves, quite nice
Flavor – Somewhat spicy but overall mild, solid banana in the middle, wheat and a bit of cloves on the finish
This is our first Doppo review, so let’s take a quick look at their background. Located in Okayama, Doppo is another brewery that initially got its start as a sake brewer. In fact, their history as a sake brewer (under the name Miyashita – Doppo is the name of their beer arm) goes all the way back to 1915, and they only started brewing beer in 1995 when the brewing regulations were relaxed. Even still, that puts them in the early batch of microbreweries in Japan, and Doppo note that they were the 9th microbrewery in Japan (first in Chugoku!) to start operations.
Stylistically they’re another one of those local Japanese breweries that focus on German-style beers. Their standard lineup is heavy on the usual suspects such as the pilsner, schwarz, and weizen, although they also make a somewhat-more-rare-in-Japan dunkel and a from-left-field American strong ale called the Imperial Ale. Doppo focus more on their sake business than their beer business, and they don’t really distribute too widely. You almost never see their beer on tap, and bottles are also somewhat rare. I used to see their stuff at the now-closed Le Collier and sometimes at World Beer Market, but I haven’t seen their bottles around too much lately.
The Doppo Weizen is not a bad stab at a weizen, if somewhat mild. It starts out very promisingly with a very nice aroma of banana and cloves and yeast, and that carries over some to the flavor as well. However, in the flavor those aspects, while still there, get muted a bit, and the overall effect is that ends up being decent but nothing more. It’s a bit of shame as it has the makings of a really good weizen, but it just doesn’t quite impart enough flavor. One small point in its favor – it has 50% wheat, so would meet the German legal definition of a weizen, for whatever that’s worth.
As for availability, Doppo aren’t so easy to track down these days, especially since Nomono has shuttered their doors. I purchased mine at a supermarket near Toritsu-daigaku called Inageya, and while the price was certainly agreeable at 431 yen, it’s not worth going there just to get this beer (they don’t stock other Doppo beers, and their craft beer selection is quite small). It’s certainly not a great beer, so don’t go to any great lengths to track it down.
Minamishinshu Alps Weizen (南信州ビール・アルプスヴァイツェン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Very pale, surprisingly little foam for a weizen
Aroma – Very mild, just a bit of wheat, a bit of spice
Flavor – Surprisingly spicy, at first lots of pepper on the finish, very little in the way of banana or wheat, ultimately turns very bland
We’ve done a few Minamishinshu reviews now, but while their Apple Hop and Blueberry Hop fruit beers are interesting, other than their excellent but one-off Wonder Berley “Akane” barley wine we haven’t found too many remarkable beers. Their Alps Weizen is a summer seasonal that they release in July and August of every year, so let’s see what it has to offer.
Unfortunately, the Minamishinshu Alps Weizen does little to overturn our opinion of them as a mediocre brewer. While I enjoyed the initial spiciness in the beer, it very quickly lost all of its flavor. It also didn’t have too much in terms of either wheat or fruit that you would expect from a weizen, and the end result is that this beer is quite bland. The Doppo fares much better for having more flavors come out, and if this can’t even beat out the Doppo Weizen it’s hard to recommend it in general.
If for some reason you do want to try it, I purchased my bottle at Tanakaya, which doesn’t usually carry Minamishinshu regulars but will occasionally carry seasonals. The best bet for finding any Minamishinshu beers (both regular and seasonals) is Shinshu Osake-mura, although at time of writing they won’t have it as it is out of season. They should have it in the summer, though.
Sierra Nevada Kellerweis
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Misc: IBU – 15
Pour – Similar in its straw gold, quite foggy, creamy foam that moves quickly
Aroma – Citrus zest is prominent, sharp
Flavor – Somewhat bitter finish with lemon, very earthy for a weizen, less banana but good earth and lemon zest
Sierra Nevada aren’t really known for their German-style beers, with instead the focus being on their classic piney Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which according to this Forbes article still is 60% of their sales!). Even as a big and well-established craft brewery, with so much of their revenue dependent on one product and with so much craft beer competition they had been feeling the need to expand their product offerings, and that’s where the Kellerweis comes in. First introduced in 2009, brewing the Kellerweis presented some challenges for them, and it was only when they took a tour of some of the Bavarian weizen producers that they decided to brew the Kellerweis using open fermentation tanks (like Fujizakura Heights does for their excellent Weizen), which draws out more complexity from the yeasts than the closed fermentation tanks that dominate modern brewing.
The Sierra Nevada Kellerweis does indeed have a good amount of complexity to it, with a pretty interesting flavor profile. The fruit aspects are there but in a more lemony way instead of banana and cloves that you normally get with weizens, but even more than that this beer stands out for its earthiness. In that sense the beer is a bit sharper than most weizens, with noticeable bitterness. I liked this one a lot, and I would definitely recommend it – while it is a year-round beer in the States, I don’t see it all the time here, but I do see it from time to time at Tanakaya (where I bought mine) and at Liquors Hasegawa.
So looking at today’s entries, the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis is clearly the superior weizen, with the Doppo Weizen being mediocre but acceptable, and the Minamishinshu Alps Weizen not even achieving that low bar. Perhaps not fair given the respective global reputations of the breweries involved, but as Fujizakura Heights brew a world-class weizen here, we’re still hopeful we’ll see another local one that can compete at that level.